Review Summary: An unexpected shoegaze masterpiece
Let’s be real: it’s quite rare for a shoegaze album to truly overwhelm
. Sure, the occasional abrasively fuzzy wall-of-sound approach may be somewhat surprising for a genre rooted in delicate dreaminess, but hey, didn’t My Bloody Valentine perfect this exact style some thirty years ago? As such, it is rather unexpected and impressive how The Great Dismal
, Nothing’s fourth studio album, manages to tap into this sensation of breathtaking beauty, relying both on expectations and contextualisation as well as its own, undeniable strengths to thrive.
Where the band’s 2018 album Dance on the Blacktop
faltered due to paper thin production and sporadically uninspired songwriting, present-day Nothing appear to feel entirely reinvigorated. The Great Dismal
utilises new member Doyle Martin (of Cloakroom fame) to its full advantage, making for some of the most atmospheric and intense music the band have ever put out. ‘A Fabricated Life’ opens the album on an expansive, gentle highlight. The song ebbs and flows as it adds and subtracts elements from its framework of a slow, muted guitar line and vocalist Dominic Palermo’s ambiguous whispers of “Trust / Trust beyond faith / Giving in / Living in / Thoughts”. Expertly contrasting this the very next moment, lead single ‘Say Less’ showcases Nothing at their most immediate. The track, unlike some of the band’s previous work, feels entirely rounded out and is full of palpable energy. Moreover, it provides Will Yip’s production the perfect opportunity to shine. Every instrument sounds incredibly crisp; the bridge’s distorted guitars pop the way they should and the drums consistently propel the song as well as the entire record forward. Accentuated by the lyrical content focusing on sensations of being surrounded by numbing sounds, the chorus claustrophobically repeating “It’s on and on and on” solidifies ‘Say Less’ as one of Nothing’s most fully realised songs.
Thankfully, the album manages to maintain this level of quality and endearing contrasts all throughout. Every song manages to display The Great Dismal
’s ability to overwhelm; ‘Catch a Fade’, for example, introduces itself as a track that could have fit on the band’s previous two albums, before exploding into a different beast altogether in its second half. Layering an infectious, clean riff with Nothing’s typical distortion and a call-and-response chorus, the fuzzy guitar solo is merely the cherry on top. Yet, the album’s very best section finds itself in the huge one-two punch of ‘In Blueberry Memories’ and ‘Blue Mecca’. The former is a gorgeous, dynamic number rooted in abrasive shoegaze. Driven by pounding drums, guitars intertwine, expand and embrace throughout the track, delicately obscuring their beginnings and endings. ‘Blue Mecca’, on the other hand, borders on post-metal with its hauntingly layered vocals and crushing riffs. Lyrically, this contrast is emphasised to an even greater extent: ‘In Blueberry Memories’ is somewhat deceptively optimistic, indicating the prominence of paradise in one’s memories. This sense of bliss is fully crushed by its counterparts’ apocalypticism: “In killing fields / Children play / Castaways / Dig their own graves”.
Even though nothing Nothing does on The Great Dismal
is inherently unique or novel, the band manages to implement tried-and-true shoegaze techniques in highly refreshing manners. As much as the record thrives off these very strengths, it is undoubtedly elevated by its position in the band’s discography. Instead of continuing the gradual degradation, The Great Dismal
not only encompasses some of the very best music Nothing have put out, but some of the very best music of the year. Whether it’s the frantic explosion of sound in ‘Famine Asylum’s bridge or ‘Ask the Rust’ ending the record on an eerily psychedelic outro, every moment twists and turns with surprising elements that enhance the album’s overwhelmingly beautiful nature.